Monday, December 22, 2014

Dal Pescatore Nadia Santini

As one of the most legendary restaurants in Italy, dal Pescatore was founded in 1925 as a simple trattoria by the (great) grandparents of Antonio Santini. Located in the village of Runate at Mantova province, the dal Pescatore did not take off until the talented lady named Nadia Santini took over the kitchen and ultimately received 3 Michelin star 1996 and managed to keep it until now. Amazingly, Nadia never cooked professionally or worked in any famous restaurants before. Since the late 90's, Nadia Santini, along with Bruna Santini - her mother in law, received an extra hand from her son, Giovanni who was generally in charge of the appetizers. Essentially, dal Pescatore is a family restaurant serving mainly traditional Italian cuisine (with some modern influence) using fresh, seasonal and top quality ingredients that were cooked with care and executed in high precision; of course, the food tasted delectable as well. The Santini family even grew some of the vegetables and herbs to be used at the restaurant on their own premises. Given the restaurant's remote location, literally in the middle of nowhere, reaching here could be quite a challenge if you don't drive. The nearby stations - Canneto sull'oglio and Piadena - were small and both even closed on the day we're having lunch. Thus, we had to call the restaurant for a taxi. It was a cold and windy Saturday; eventually after 15 minutes waiting - perhaps they had difficulties to find any taxi, Giovanni stopped by and gave us a ride to the restaurant after he finished running his errant in the town. It was not a short trip from Modena, but we were glad to finally reach dal Pescatore and be able to savor its authentic and classic dishes. Having tasting menu was a must and we opted to skip the cheese course and had it replaced with an additional appetizer.   

Terrina di Astice con Caviale Oscietra Royal e zenzero marinato (Lobster terrine in champagne gelatin served with Oscietra caviar, pickled ginger and spinach) - The dish had the most attractive presentation for our lunch and it was solid. The lobster was tender & tasty, the caviar was in good quality & briny and the jelly was refreshing; all elements worked quite well together

Insalata di Faraona in agrodolce con salsa all'uva fragola (Guinea fowl salad in sweet & sour sauce served with pomegranate and carrot) - The warm guinea fowl (both white and dark meat) was perfectly cooked. The 'chicken' was enhanced by sweet & sour dressing as well as some simple vegetables and fruits. Another pleasant starter

Tortelli di Zucca, Amaretti, Mostarda, e Parmigiano Reggiano (Tortelli of roasted pumpkin served with almond biscuit, watermelon mustard, nutmeg and Parmigiano cheese) - dal Pescatore's signature dish and deservedly so. It seemed simple, yet profound and very delicious; both rustic and savory. The pumpkin's sweetness balanced the cheese's saltiness; excellent texture and flavor contrast. Generally, I don't like pumpkin, but this dish by Nadia Santini converted me into pumpkin "fans". My favorite dish here

Risotto (Vialone Nano) con fonduta di Parmigiano Reggiano e Tartufo bianco d'Alba (Risotto using Vialone nano rice served with melted Parmesan cheese and shaved Alba white truffle) - A specialty of Piedmont delivered with superb ingredients. The risotto had a nice texture and was not too rich; the truffle added the necessary 'extra punch' in flavor and aroma. Surprisingly, this dish was similar to the one I had in l'Arpege - perhaps it's a classical dish after all

Accompanied by wine: Anselmi San Vincenzo 2013 (dry white wine from the Veneto region; it was crisp, clean and medium body with round pear & lemon fruit - nicely matched the lobster dish)

Branzino alla piastra con guazzetto agrunato, pomodoro confit e olio extravergine toscano (Grilled Sea bass in simmered crushed citrus with Tuscany olive oil, tomato confit and artichoke) - The 'perfect white' sea bass was firm and mild. The aromatic 'sauce' and nicely done tomato & artichoke added enjoyable flavor and complexity. Like it

Sella di Capriolo, salsa al Cabernet e mirtilli neri (Saddle of Roe served in Cabernet sauce, mashed potatoes and blueberries) - Including this dish, I was lucky to have eaten a few excellent and satisfying venison dishes during this trip. This one was tender, delicious and profound with rich taste from the Cabernet sauce and the deer's juice. The side dishes were not bad at all. An excellent example of a well executed top quality game dish in the Autumn 

Accompanied by wine: Gillardi Langhe 2006 (a good full-bodied merlot from Piedmont in ruby color with ripe tannin. It had black cherries and red currants nose and flavors) 

Torta di Amaretti (caffe, panna, croccante, zabaione) - Almond cake served with coffee, cream and sabayon. An impeccable dessert! The torta was moist with superb flavor & aroma as well as having lovely texture. All elements were fine and every byte was a pure indulgence. I doubt I would consume a better version of Ameretti torta in the future

Meringa alle Mandorle con Pistacchio e Zabaione al Marsala (Meringue served with Pistachio cream, toasted Almonds and sabayon of marsala) - My spouse's dessert. The meringue was fine; the top notch one was the bright marsala sabayon with distinct wine and yolk flavor. The almond provided some texture variation. Overall, I enjoy it though not as good as my torta with Amaretti
Petit fours - My best mignardises outside Paris this year. The magnificent array of sweets consisted of dark chocolate, raspberry tart, coffee profiterole, cannoli, dried orange skin covered with chocolate and mini biscuit. A good way to end the meal

Unlike other Italian elite gastronomy restaurants I have been, dal Pescatore served dishes with less (parmesan) cheese and cream/butter, yet they were still flavorful & rich, but more importantly not heavy. The food was classic and deceptively simple like a home cooking - a kind of stuffs we can eat regularly without feeling overwhelmed; I truly enjoyed the delicious dishes having clear and harmonious flavors and were prepared using the best local produce. The service, while efficient, none of the servers really took interest to know the guests more. They never asked about the food; simply did their "minimal" tasks of bringing the dishes, explaining them and clearing the plates - no more communication beyond that. Even, our only conversation during the meal with Antonio Santini, the restaurant manager-owner, occurred after I had complained about the initial red wine by the glass (villa minelli 2008), served by the younger sommelier, contained a decent amount of sediment. Mr. Santini immediately apologized and replaced it with the red wine mentioned above. We experienced our warmest welcomed when we visited the kitchen and met with the Italian haute-cuisine living legend, Nadia Santini who's also accompanied by Bruna and Giovanni. Nadia genuinely greeted and thanked us for visiting the restaurant from afar. The dining room (and reading + waiting room) was very spacious, beautiful and elegant; it was quite a busy afternoon with more than 20 people coming here for lunch. In spite of its location, dal Pescatore has maintained  its status as a grand restaurant offering superb gourmet experience, in which any true gourmand should make a pilgrimage to visit once in his/her life time. It's certainly qualified as one of the very best Italian restaurants in the world. For my wife, without a doubt, it was her favorite dining place in Italy. Readers are welcome to see the dishes we had here: Ristorante dal Pescatore in Nov '14

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 93 pts

Overall: 95/100

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